- Hot flashes can be a common discomfort during menopause, but a new study suggests dietary changes may offer relief.
- The researchers found that a low-fat, plant-based diet rich in soy products was as effective as hormone replacement therapy in reducing hot flashes.
- The participants who followed the dietary protocol also experienced weight loss.
- The results suggest a potential for dietary changes as a first-line treatment for hot flashes.
- More research is still needed to understand the role of diet in hot flashes and other menopause-related symptoms..
Making dietary changes during menopause can be just as effective as hormone replacement therapy in treating hot flashes without associated health risks.
That’s according to a new study recently published in the journal Menopause by the North American Menopause Society.
According to the researchers, participants who adhered to a strictly plant-based diet rich in soy saw an 88% reduction in their symptoms. By comparison, hormone replacement therapy is associated with a 70–90% reduction in hot flashes
In addition, the participants also reduced their overall weight by an average of 8 pounds over 12 weeks.
“Our results reflect diets in parts of the world, such as pre-Westernized Japan and today’s Yucatan Peninsula, where a low-fat, plant-based diet, including soy, is prevalent and where postmenopausal women experience fewer symptoms,” said Dr. principal investigator. dr Neal Barnardchairman of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine in a Press release.
For the study, researchers followed 84 postmenopausal participants who experienced two or more hot flashes per day for 12 weeks.
Subjects adhered to a plant-based diet rich in soy products by incorporating the following dietary changes:
- avoidance of animal products
- reduced total fat intake
- addition of a daily soybean ration
Despite the reduction in hot flashes, the researchers admit they don’t fully understand why this particular dietary protocol was so effective.
They confirmed that the combination of each of the three elements listed above was key to reducing hot flash symptoms.
It’s also important to note that in the study, participants with fewer hot flashes ate significantly less fat and more fiber, and achieved this in just 12 weeks on a vegan diet that emphasized soy.
In addition, the study neither proved nor disproved that eating meat causes hot flashes, but rather that a low-fat, plant-based diet rich in soy foods reduced hot flashes and contributed to weight loss.
Amy BraganniMS, RD, CSO, a nutrition oncologist and women’s nutrition specialist at Trinity Health Lacks Cancer Center in Michigan and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline that she sees many clients who are willing to try anything to reduce their hot flushes .
“Clients tell me that hot flashes interrupt their sleep, cause irritability and lead to profuse sweating at work,” he said.
His recommendations for reducing hot flashes with diet include:
- increase intake of whole soy foods
- increased consumption of fermented soy products
- limit processed foods
- cutting back on alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, which can also negatively affect sleep cycles
“This is one of the reasons postmenopausal women are often at higher risk of heart disease than premenopausal women,” Kirkpatrick told Healthline. “Therefore, it is often recommended to eliminate foods that are associated with worsening blood vessel health.”
Kirkpatrick added that foods with isoflavones, such as whole soybeans, may also be helpful for blood vessel health.
Dietary Julie CunninghamRD, whose clients with type 2 diabetes also experience menopausal symptoms, explained that isoflavones in soy foods (and some legumes such as chickpeas) mimic estrogen in the body.
While more research is needed to understand how soy isoflavones affect menopausal symptoms, Cunningham offered one possible explanation:
“Since it’s a drop in estrogen during menopause that causes hot flashes, eating these foods effectively convinces the body that there’s plenty of estrogen circulating in the blood, so there’s no need for a hot flash,” she told Healthline.
Although the new study suggests that a plant-based diet can reduce hot flashes, nutrition experts say this doesn’t mean animal products should be avoided entirely.
“Lean meat can be a rich source of protein and vitamins [and] minerals,” Bragagnini said.
At the same time, not every meal needs to include meat, and increasing your intake of plant-based foods can offer a number of health benefits.
Bragagnini recommends swapping a meat entree for a vegetarian dish once or twice a week.
“To maintain a good relationship with food, we shouldn’t focus on ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but rather ask whether this food will help or harm my health and menopausal symptoms,” Kirkpatrick said.
There are simple, everyday ways to make adjustments to your diet to promote wellness and potentially ease menopausal symptoms.
According to Kirkpatrick, healthy dietary changes can help improve:
- hormonal fluctuations
- cholesterol levels
- bone health
Kirkpatrick said you could work to switch from animal protein to plant-based protein by evaluating how many servings of fruits and vegetables you’re getting in your diet and increasing if you eat fewer than 7 handfuls per day.
He added that a moderate carbohydrate approach could help regulate blood sugar levels during postmenopause.
“When you have fruits and vegetables, focus on those with a lower glycemic index,” he said.
Rich in estrogen, soy consumption may help reduce hot flashes, according to research findings, and even offer additional health benefits.
As a general rule, opt for soy foods that are minimally processed whenever possible. You may also prefer soy products that are labeled non-GMO.
If you’re interested in including more soy in your diet, there are a number of soy foods you can try, but it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian first, especially if you have an underlying health condition.
Bragagnini suggests adding edamame as an appetizer to any meal.
“This delicious green-looking veggie isn’t terribly intimidating, and so your family is more likely to try it,” says Bragagnini.
Try steaming edamame in the shell and then sprinkling it with a little salt.
Bragagnini said that soy milk is another great option for including a serving of soy in your diet.
“Think about combining soy milk with some fresh or frozen fruit and blending them together for a great, delicious smoothie,” she said.
Soy nuts are a great option for a quick, protein-packed snack.
“I keep soy nuts on my desk and often have them for an afternoon snack when I’m craving something high in protein and fiber,” Bragagnini said.
New research suggests that a low-fat, plant-based product that emphasizes soy products may help relieve hot flash symptoms associated with menopause and lead to weight loss.
However, despite the positive findings, larger studies are still needed to determine whether this dietary protocol could be considered a first-line treatment or a substitute for hormone replacement therapy.
If you’re experiencing menopause or postmenopause and interested in switching to a plant-based diet, it may help to gradually reduce your intake of meat products rather than switching all at once.
Anyone can benefit from eating more plants; just remember that it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet.
“The bottom line is almost always, ‘eat a lot more vegetables and a lot less fat,'” Cunningham said.